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Umtanum Creek, Yakima River Canyon, WA
June 2013

I've been meaning to share my favorite Washington birding spot for several years now. A couple of years ago I attempted to lead a backpacking trip through the Seattle Audubon Society to this canyon. But I didn't have enough takers to make it worthwhile. So this year I, along with my co-leader, decided to lead a day hike through the canyon.

The weekend before the trip, Tor and I headed out and camping one night in the canyon at our usual camping spot. The birds were fantasitic as always. The bonuses were a Prairie Falcon nest with nestlings in rock face on the canyon and a pair of Lewis's Woodpeckers that were looking to nest in a tree right next to the campsite.

We unfortunately didn't see much Big Horn Sheep activity as in the past. We eagerly awaited dusk to see if the ewes and their young would come out, but they didn't. We did see a small group of males as we hiked out of the canyon however.

During the heat of the day, the snakes were quite numerous. We saw several Garter Snakes, Pacific Rattlers, Bullsnakes, and a Racers. They would all zip off into the grass long before we could get a good view of them. The flowers put on an impressive display. We were a little late for the lupine and mule's ears, but it seems a little more lush this year than in years past.

The field trip itself was pretty successful. I think, however, migration had already peaked and as a result we saw/heard less warblers and other migrants. Everyone seemed to have an enjoyable time. It made me think about leading more trips in the future and specifically leading this trip next year.

My trip report that I posted to Tweeters:

Hi Tweeters,
On Saturday June 8th, Mark Wolff and I lead 8 wonderfully enthusiastic birders on the Umtanum Creek trail. We enjoyed perfect weather, great birds and wildlife, beautiful scenery, the sweet fragrance of blooming mock orange and Nootka rose, and each other's delightful birding company. The stars of the canyon were the abundant singing Lazuli Buntings and Yellow-breasted Chats. Everyone got great views of both. The group also had nice views of nestling Prairie Falcons in the two nests along the trail. The first nest, located near the beginning of the trailhead, had three nestlings, while the second nest (roughly two miles up the trail) had two. Both sets of nestlings were still covered in some down.

Surprisingly the canyon was almost void of warbler song. During our scouting trip just the week before (on June 2nd), however, we heard singing Wilson's, Black-throated Gray, Orange-crowned, Townsend's, and Yellow Warblers. Also surprising was the absence of snakes, which were numerous just one week before. An unfortunate find on Saturday was the loss of a potential Lewis's Woodpecker nest. The snag had fallen some time between our scouting trip and the field trip. We found the pair of woodpeckers still near the fallen snag. Hopefully they will find a new home this season.

We had the fortune of running into Neil Zimmerman who pointed out three male Big Horned Sheep on the canyon rim. Other mammals seen were a Yellow-bellied Marmot and several Rock Squirrels.

After our hike, we stopped at Big Pine Campground (located south of Umtanum) to check out Neil's tip on Common Nighthawks. We found a dozen or so nighthawks wheeling over the pines and the river. Not as many as Neil originally saw, but still a great sight. Also present of note were several Western Kingbirds and a pair of Bullock's Orioles.

All in all a great day spent in a beautiful area. Between Umtanum Creek and Big Pine, we saw 44 species; list follows.

Turkey Vulture – U, 1
Northern Harrier – U, 1 male
Red-tailed Hawk – U, 3
Rock Pigeon – U, 2
Common Nighthawk – U, 1; B, 12
White-throated Swift – U, 4; B, 4
Belted Kingfisher – U, 2
Lewis's Woodpecker – U, 2
Downy Woodpecker – U, 2
Northern Flicker - U
American Kestrel – U, 2
Prairie Falcon – U, 2 nests, 5 nestlings total, 3 adults
Olive-sided Flycatcher - U
Western Wood-Pewee – U and B
Say's Phoebe – U, 1
Western Kingbird – U, 1 overhead
Warbling Vireo – U, singing
Steller's Jay - U
Black-billed Magpie - U
Common Raven – U, heard
Northern Rough-winged Swallow - U
Violet-green Swallow - U
Barn Swallow - U
Black-capped Chickadee – U, heard
Rock Wren – U, heard and seen
Canyon Wren – U, heard
House Wren – U, heard
Bewick's Wren – U, 2
American Robin - U, 1 nesting
European Starling - U
Cedar Waxwing - U
Black-throated Gray Warbler – U, 1 heard
Wilson's Warbler – U, 1 heard
Yellow-breasted Chat – U, many singing
Spotted Towhee - U
Song Sparrow - U
Black-headed Grosbeak – U, many singing
Lazuli Bunting – U, many singing
Brewer’s Blackbird – B
Brown-headed Cowbird - U
Bullock’s Oriole – 1 at B
House Finch – U, B
American Goldfinch – U

U=Umtanum; B=Big Pine

Tiffany Linbo
Mountlake Terrace, WA


Pictures (click on thumbnail to enlarge)

Bird List (from scouting trip)
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Golden Eagle
Northern Harrier
2, male mobbed us
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
White-throated Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Lewis's Woodpecker
3, pair at nest hole
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Prairie Falcon
nest with 2 nestlings
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Western Wood-Pewee
Warbling Vireo
Steller's Jay
Black-billed Magpie
Common Raven
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
House Wren
Bewick's Wren
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Spotted Towhee
Lark Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Lazuli Bunting
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Evening Grosbeak
Other Critters:
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
Garter Snake
Bullsnake/gopher snake
Rock Squirrel
Big Horn Sheep
5 males
Flowers in bloom
Miner's Lettuce
Night flowering catchfly
Oregon Sunshine
Round leaf Alumroot
Sticky Geranium
Hooker's Onion



Located: Yakima River Canyon managed by the BLM, LT Murray State Wildlife Recreation Area
Directions: South of I-90 on Hwy-821 (Canyon Road).
Required permit: Annual Interagency Passport or self-register fee at the parking lot
Washington DRG Map: Yakima – Wyner, The Cottonwoods, Ellensburg South, Manastash Creek


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page updated: 6/9/13